Lateshia Dowell started baking for the first time when she was 26 years old. On Thanksgiving Day in 2013, she was waiting, somewhat impatiently she coyly admits, for her mother’s famous sweet potato pie to leave the oven. Unable to handle the suspense, she took a spoon of the sweet and spicy filling, fashioned it into a dome, packaged it neatly into an envelope of dough, and tossed the bite-size concoction into the oven alongside the pie. Dowell says her confection was fully baked in less than half the time of her mother’s full-size pie but tasted just as delicious. What followed was several months of recipe-testing and tasting what eventually would become the “piekie” — a portmanteau of pie and cookie. As a result, Dowell opened her online shop, Flaky Bakes in June 2014.
Holding a demanding full-time job in communications at the time, Dowell’s days were painstakingly long. She says she would wake up at 5 a.m., bake and deliver the goods by 7 a.m., get to work by 8 a.m., and parse through the logistics of the business in the evenings. It was an exhausting schedule, but Dowell credits much of Flaky Bakes’ success to this kind of personal investment. “By hand-delivering the piekies, I formed connections with my customers,” she says. “And people buy based on that personal connection. Sometimes they would even invite me inside — that part was a little creepy,” she laughs. “It would be like inviting the Domino’s guy inside!”
Dowell’s hard work paid dividends. In July 2016, she received an email from a producer at the popular ABC show, Steve Harvey’s Funderdome — he was also a producer for Shark Tank — asking if she would be interested in competing on Funderdome. Flaky Bakes had already received some earned media coverage by then, including a feature on WDIV-TV (Channel 4), which Dowell says helped “skyrocket” the business, but an opportunity like Funderdome was unparalleled.
“By hand-delivering the piekies, I formed connections with my customers … And people buy based on that personal connection.”
— Lateshia Dowell
She spent months shooting videos, reciting her pitch, and perfecting her on-screen presence, but nothing could prepare her for the anxiety of competing on national television. “I didn’t know who my competition was until I went on stage. I ended up going up against a pregnant woman who had a panini press that put the face of Jesus on your grilled cheese. It was called the Grilled Cheesus. Dowell won, and with that came validation — and a $20,000 check, which she received in November 2017, over a year after winning the show. That’s over a year of keeping her victory hidden from the public. “It’s funny because you have this exciting, exhilarating moment, but you can’t tell anyone about it.”
With the waiting game behind her, Dowell now bakes up to three times a week at Saints Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Detroit. She makes several different types of piekies — caramel apple, sweet potato, cinnamon apple roll, peaches and cream, and strawberries and cream in the summer, and pecan and pumpkin during Thanksgiving. For holidays and special occasions, she often likes to experiment with shapes like leaves or turkeys. Every week she delivers two dozen piekies to three coffee shops across the city, Germack Roasting Co. in Eastern Market, The Commons on Detroit’s east side, and Detroit Sip on the west side, and brings 75-150 to her weekly farmers market, in addition to completing whatever online orders she has received. “I’m not shipping [across the country] right now, but when I was, I would get about 15 orders a week.” She’s in the process of developing packaging and containers that will allow her to ship the piekies across the U.S. year-round. Anyone looking to order her goods in metro Detroit, however, is in luck.Though she didn’t learn her original recipe secrets from her grandmother, she credits her as a source of inspiration. “My grandmother was an amazing baker. She made this delicious pound cake and didn’t share the recipe with anyone. When she died in 2009 everyone in my family was shook.” Perhaps, unwittingly so, it was the memory of her grandmother that guided Dowell to her current venture.
For everyone without a matriarch-cum-pâtissière, piekies are just a click away. Our favorite flavor for fall — sweet potato. There’s nothing like an orginal.
For more information, visit flakybakes.com.